Review published on July 19, 2017.
Continental Crimes is the latest anthology in the hugely popular British Library Crime Classics series and it is yet another cracking collection of fiendishly good mystery stories. The theme of this anthology is ‘classic British crime stories set on the continent of Europe’ and, as Martin Edwards notes in his introduction, it serves to highlight the diversity of settings featured in Golden Age crime stories (despite the popular notion of their ‘Mayhem Parva’-ness) and the fact that human (criminal) nature is much the same the world over.
As with the other British Library anthologies, some of the stories included in Continental Crimes are by very well-known authors, while others are far more obscure. In terms of the authors whose work has remained hugely popular over the years, the collection includes ‘The New Catacomb’ by Arthur Conan Doyle, a non-Sherlockian story in which a shared love of archaeology leads to jealousy and revenge, and ‘The Secret Garden’ by G.K. Chesterton, which sees Father Brown investigating a seemingly impossible beheading that occurred within a sealed garden. They are two extremely well-crafted mysteries, both of which have a delightful sting in the tail.
There is also a story by Agatha Christie, ‘Have You Got Everything You Want?’, in which Parker Pyne helps a young woman who believes that her new husband is involved in some nefarious scheme that is due to take place while she is on the train to Venice. Interestingly, although Christie’s Hercule Poirot does not feature, Continental Crimes does include a tale starring one Hercules Popeau, a French detective recently retired from the Criminal Investigation Branch of the Préfecture de Police who just can’t resist lending a hand when he senses something criminal is afoot. In ‘Popeau Intervenes’, he overhears a conversation that causes him to suspect a murder is about to take place and he sets out to unravel the matter in a very cerebral, Poirot-like manner. Marie Belloc Lowndes created Hercules Popeau before Agatha Christie wrote her first Hercule Poirot novel and, given the numerous similarities between the two characters, it is not surprising to read in the introduction to ‘Popeau Intervenes’ that Lowndes was not impressed by the clear resemblance between her detective and Poirot.
Of the less well-known works included in the collection, some of the stand-out stories are ‘The Lover of St Lys’ by F. Tennyson Jesse, in which the insightful Solange Fontaine and her beau Raymond sense evil in the moth-eaten old castle inhabited by the De Tourville family, and ‘The Perfect Murder’ by Stacy Aumonier, which features two brothers who are plagued by the duel problems of a lack of funds and an abundance of stingy relatives. One of the key reasons why the British Library anthologies are so good is the inclusion of ‘forgotten’ authors, those whose work was much praised during the Golden Age of crime but whose books have mostly now slipped out of print, and Continental Crimes is another collection that will likely cause crime fiction fans to add numerous new titles to their ‘to be read’ lists.
There are fourteen stories included in Continental Crimes and, while the majority are very good, some are rather less so. For instance, ‘The Secret of the Magnifique’ by E. Phillips Oppenheimer seemed overly long and the ultimate reveal fell somewhat flat, while ‘The Room in the Tower’ by J. Jefferson Farjeon (whose novel Mystery in White arguably kick-started the popularity of the British Library Crime Classics series) wasn’t really a mystery/crime story at all, although it was an atmospheric, spooky tale. Of course, the beauty of an anthology is the opportunity to read a range of stories by a number of different writers, and the fact that a couple didn’t really appeal doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the collection as a whole.
Continental Crimes is another highly recommended short story collection from the British Library; there really is something in it for every fan of classic crime fiction.
Erin Britton 5/5
Continental Crimes edited by Martin Edwards
British Library Publishing 9780712356794 pbk Jun 2017